Director Logjam

- - Working

I had a fashion shoot implode the other day after we finished casting and scouting locations, so we quickly scrambled to put another one together and I had 3 days to get a photographer on board. To shoot fashion at our rag a photographer has to be approved by myself, the Fashion Director and the Creative Director. If one of us doesn’t agree they’re rejected. This, as you might imagine, can be difficult especially when you have 3 days so the process usually amounts to me pitching photographers I know will be available and the CD pitching photographers that are most likely booked till Easter and the FD spiking a few here and there for various reasons. When we finally settle on a couple we all agree on I quickly call the agent to check availability and depending on who the agency is you either get a quick answer or you get “I’ll see what can be moved around” and no answer for like a day.

While, I like all the photography that’s come out of this process when you’re in the middle of the logjam it SUCKS.

Switching Categories

- - Photography Style

Portrait, Fashion, Fine Art, Photojournalist, Still Life, Lifestyle and Car Photographer. There’s more but this is just to illustrate something that happened recently. A photographer who’s top 3 for me in one of these categories tells me he also shoots in another category which I don’t have a problem with, I just don’t think he realizes that in the other category he’s number 54 on my list.

Oh. My. God. – Jan Von Hollenben

- - Photographers

My favorite thing about photography is that I’m always discovering new stuff and my taste is just never fully developed. I can imagine that being a photography critic is quite a drag because you’ve seen everything before and there are very few surprises for you in photography. I found Jan Von Hollenben over on Photo Rank and every time I show someone these photos I get the same reaction… Oh. My. God. Photography is just awesome like that sometimes.

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Writers Strike Continues

- - Photography News

Story in Variety yesterday, “WGA talks leaves bitterness.”

Here’s what I found interesting:

AMPTP insiders said they’re convinced WGA West exec director David Young is trying to make the WGA battles a part of a larger, more global struggle against corporate “greed.”

[...]“For them, this is not a writers strike. It’s about changing society,” one exec said. “We are so frustrated. We’re dealing with people who don’t care about this community. They care about making social change in America.”

Making A Living As A Photographer

- - Photography Business

Robert Wright delivers a couple smart posts on the business of photography and that oh so important part, many photographers overlook, making sure you treat it like a business. He’s got some strategies for dealing with the current state of affairs which amounts to a stagnant day rate and thinly padded expenses.

US vs. THEM… or flogging a dead horse

US vs. THEM part DEUX!

I agree with much of what he says even though I’m a part of “THEM.”

He talks about working within the system but using whatever advantages you can to create positive cash flow. I’d say the biggest point to come out of it is that idea of renting equipment. There’s hardly a photographer that I hire anymore that doesn’t charge me to rent equipment. Hell, I just paid a $7,000 rental bill but what am I going to do about it, nobody owns equipment anymore and if they do they rent it to me. It’s only fair.

He also brings up the editorial photographers group (EP) which failed to turn editorial photography into a viable business but I will add likely mitigated the level of damage that was about to happen. I personally learned a ton from what I read on the website back then and many photographers that I dealt with changed their business practices for the better. I even cribbed off the contracts when writing and trying to understand a few of my own.

The big downside for me was that anyone with a camera was suddenly using the EP attitude to badger me into paying higher rates and signing their contract terms and the reality was they didn’t have the skills as a photographer to make those demands.

The barrier to entry in the editorial market has always been that you can’t make a living at the bottom of the market and now the middle of the market is completely flooded with photographers making it impossible to specialize in editorial photography. This can’t be good and I really don’t have a solution at the moment but at least Robert has a strategy for dealing with it.

Photographer Tags

- - Photography Style

Unless you are a “named” photographer we use tags to describe how you shoot. Pick the tags below that best describe your photography to see how I refer to you.

  • color
  • black & white
  • film
  • digital
  • available light
  • lit
  • heavily lit
  • over lit
  • large format
  • medium format
  • 35mm
  • holga/junk
  • shoots men
  • shoots women
  • shoots children
  • studio
  • location
  • portrait
  • photojournalist
  • fashion
  • beauty
  • still life
  • fine art
  • advertising
  • outdoor
  • automotive
  • food
  • interior
  • sports
  • conceptual
  • travel and leisure-e
  • urban
  • gritty
  • nike
  • high production value
  • low production value
  • slick
  • raw
  • grainy
  • saturated
  • captured moment
  • americana
  • weird
  • stark
  • quirky
  • props
  • lyrical
  • painterly
  • high contrast
  • naked
  • cool
  • off moment
  • awkward
  • muted color
  • crunchy (super sharp)
  • great casting
  • tight
  • landscape
  • action
  • sets
  • real people
  • models
  • trashy
  • heroin
  • vintage
  • webberie
  • annieish
  • assisted for annie
  • lachapelleish
  • egglestonish
  • dan winters on peyote
  • meisel’s brother from another mother

I think there’s something insightful here like having a 2-4 word description is bad because there are so many people that have the same 2-4 words and over 12 is probably bad because then it gets hard to remember all the words.

You can tell me all the tags I forgot and I’ll add them in.

Jeff Riedel

- - Photographers

Jeff Riedel is intense.

Shooting with a 4×5 on location with lights and multiple set-ups per day can be pressure enough but he has this way of shooting that requires adjusting the lights (up, up more, ok like twice that, even more, now see my hand, faced over here like my hand) and the camera position (ok move everything back I was too close) and the subject (move over 1 step left, your other left, now 1 step back) and louping the focus under the black cloth (ok hold it like that for one second) then shooting endless polaroids (polaroid, polaroid, polaroid, how many polaroids do we have left) while trouble shooting the lighting (more power, it’s at max power, it’s at max power?) until everything is perfect and then *BAM* slamming sheet after sheet into the holders until you see the right expression (close your mouth, chin up) and adjusting the body position slightly (can you put your hand on your hip, let the other one hang loose, move your leg back an inch) and making sure the goddam pocket wizards don’t fail like they sometimes do in the middle of the shot (did that fire?, no it didn’t, are you sure?, yes positive, what channel is it on?, is it turned on?, do you have a sync cord?) and then after endless calls to the assistant (film, film, film, ok polaroid) and then you wait for the polaroids to cook, no one can move, and then he compares the two polaroids to make sure nothing changed in between the first and last and then the shot is over.

Perfect.

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I worked with Jeff on location once and he was doing another job the next day that I wanted to help him out with for fun, so the next day we went tromping through the woods with talent and crew doing various setups going through the usual intense shooting procedure for each location. At the end of the day over dinner Jeff has the polaroids which, because of his rigorous method of shooting, represent the final shot for each setup and he was brooding over them. The light here or the color there or the body position in this one was not where he wanted it to be and to be honest, I couldn’t see it. Not because it wasn’t there but because I don’t have the ability to see the degrees of imperfection in two nearly similar images. Jeff wasn’t satisfied so he rescheduled his commitments and went out in the woods the next day and shot the whole thing over again. Intense. Goddam Right.

From the Emailbag

- - FAQ's

A reader asks, “why don’t photo editors don’t return phone calls and emails?”

The good news is that we listen to and read each one so it’s not like you’re not getting through to us. The reason we don’t get back to you and say no thanks or hey what did you want to tell me, besides the problem of not having enough time, it’s because I’m not a robot (I can dance like one tho) and once we start a conversation I feel obligated to return all future phone calls and emails and it can get very time consuming and draining. So, if it’s not something I’m interested in I don’t call back. Plenty of publicists don’t return mine. I don’t take it personally.

A reader asks, “how do I get a job as a photo assistant?”

Well, you can head over to www.photoassistant.net or you can contact photographers you want to learn from and see if they need an assistant.

A reader asks, “do you know where there is a list of photo editor with email addresses to contact them?”

Workbook has a phone book with names and they also have mailing lists you can buy. There are other services but workbook is one of the few that calls me to see if I exist.

A reader asks, “what do you think of Redux as an agency?”

If I’m looking for a photographer that doesn’t live in NYC then it’s my first stop. When looking for photojournalists it’s in the top 5. When looking for photographers in general it’s on the list.

A reader asks, “do e-promos work anymore?”

Yes, but the volume is increasing exponentially. It’s all about the subject line now. Weird to think about it that way but I’m seeing some great subject lines that make me want to click.

“The truth is very few people really like art.”

“This is the dirty secret that makes a living for artists such as Caroline Shotton. She is a new addition to that august company of artists who have careers, it seems, solely on the back of the joy the public takes in upsetting art critics, especially at Turner prize time.”

[...]“And I sympathise, I really do, if you’re reading this and siding with her for slapping the art snobs’ faces. Critics and museums lie when they claim serious art is accessible. It is obscure and demanding.”

Great story over at the Guardian (here) that I found via JM Colberg

I think we all know that if you want to sell a ton of something to the general public you need to get down to their level of taste. This is what troubles me about the impending upending of the photography distribution system. When consumers have a choice will they pick the imagery that’s easy to digest or moves or has sound or will they sometimes choose complex hard to understand photography.

State of the Stock Photography Market

- - The Future

Dan Heller delivers this treatise about the state of the stock photography market on his blog based on an interview PDN did with him (here). It’s quite long for a blog read so I pulled a few highlights out here:

PDN: What do you think the license revenue number [for stock] is, if not $2 billion?

DH: That depends upon how you make the calculation, but I would estimate it closer to 20 billion range.

… We can get a sense of this untapped potential in the huge supply of photos being used for free in one form or another, whether it’s intentional give-aways by consumers, or equal indifference to copyright infringements by working photographers.

… Yet, the real opportunity is precisely because of all those free exchanges of images. They could be converted into real dollars if there were a more mature, sustainable and reliable infrastructure that people actually knew about and participated in.

… That microstocks exist is just a byproduct of this mismanagement. But those small companies themselves don’t present major growth opportunities in their current form, and they’ll largely be reabsorbed back into the system, once it eventually materializes again in another form.

… The only thing that affects broad-scale market pricing (up or down) is the fundamental industry-wide infrastructure. Prices are low because of the lack of efficiencies to the pricing/licensing/distribution models.

… It is true that a market-based system causes unit prices to go down with increased supply, but it would only be for those kinds of images where there’s an oversupply anyway (and whose prices were unfairly and artificially supported by the aforementioned mechanisms).

PDN: Let’s assume there is $20 billion worth of photo licensing business worldwide. A lot of sales are so piddling and diffuse, how can individual photographers benefit?

DH: There are two answers: the short term (they can’t benefit) and the long term (lay a foundation for the emerging industry transformation).

Copyright and Movies

There’s a great post (here) from A.E. Vogler a screenplay writer in Hollywood. Here’s a couple highlights:

Residuals, along with larger up front fees, are what we writers receive to compensate us for the fact that the studios retain legal copyright (i.e., authorship) over our work. What does that mean? It means that once we turn in our scripts, the studios can do whatever they want to them.

and

This means that each and every creative decision that’s made becomes not about what’s right for the film, what’s fresh and new and exciting and truthful – but about what the boss is going to say. That’s pretty much the sole criterion in the development process: anticipating the reaction of the big kahuna. And since most bosses are as unpredictable and impatient as they are shrewd and successful, everyone under them tends to default to playing it safe. Avoid anything untried. Do what’s worked before. Stick with proven formulas. And what happens? Anything new and original is weeded out. And everything turns to shit.

and

We have to retain copyright. Not because we’re smarter or more capable of shepherding scripts to greatness, but because WE WORK ALONE. Film is a collaborative medium. But writing isn’t. Writing is solitary art, born not of a system, but of a single mind.

and the kicker

in ten years filmmakers won’t need studios at all.

I’m watching all these mediums evolve for clues about what will happen to photography next.

Those Photos Suck

- - Photography Style

I worked with an editor once who–fairly often when I brought him photos–would tell me the photos sucked. I would then try to tell him that no, you’re using the wrong words, you should be saying “I don’t like those photos” which is fine because you’re an editor and therefore you know nothing about photography. This is why I work here.

In the editorial and advertising world, photos are good when they do their job, but it all depends on where you’re standing.

I’m standing over here with other mainstream consumer magazines. My magazine has a specific agenda that involves overshooting our audience’s taste in photography to attract elitist advertisers, favorable press and awards from the NYC photo mafia.

If you’re standing over in corporate head shot universe there’s no need to get all Terry Richardson on their asses because that will get you fired because it’s bad photography.

So, when I think about who’s the best photographer in Canton, Ohio it has nothing to do with who’s the best at shooting things people in Canton actually need pictures of it’s who’s the best at emulating the NYC editorial style I need to do my job.

Usually, when my editor doesn’t like photos it means I’m doing my job.

Photography News Links

- - Photography News

LaSalle Bank which recently sold to Bank of America has a 5,000 piece photography collection.

London editor to Anne Geddes “If I can give you some advice, just photographing babies is never going to work for you. You need to broaden your portfolio to include adults and animals.”

Photographer Lynn Blodgett has a demanding day job: He’s president and chief executive officer of Affiliated Computer Services, Inc., a Dallas-based Fortune 500 company… [but he still found time to create a] ..remarkable monograph, Finding Grace: The Face of America’s Homeless (Palace Press, $55), which American Photo included in its January/February portfolio of the Best Photo Books of the Year.

College photographer of the year awards.

In exchange for the right to sell action shots of athletes to a hungry audience of parents, boosters and relatives, IHSA (Illinois High School Association) receives a virtually limitless library of images from the Cedarburg, Wis. company (Visual Image Photography Inc.) for its own promotional material. IHSA, which values the deal at tens of thousands of dollars, in turn prohibits credentialed media from selling their own pictures from championship events.

Corbis, the stock photography company controlled by billionaire Bill Gates, is close to being profitable for the first time ever…

The Agent AKA The Photographers Rep

- - Photography Agent

Agents are of course the best way to find photographers. Sometimes when I’m in a huge hurry to find someone in a city that’s not LA or NY on photoserve, I just look for listings with an agent so I don’t have to click on every single link. I posted my list of photography agents over on the sidebar (here) for anyone who wants to browse them. For a photo editor a really good agent is like having an extra person in your office. You place the same trust in their skills that the editor or creative director places in mine so their ass is on the line too. Ha.

There’s 3 basic types of agent I deal with. Editorial friendly, advertising heavy and fashion flacks.

Editorial friendly agents know their photographers love to shoot editorial and will bend over backwards to accommodate any job. They can juggle the tightest schedule to land a shoot, are quickly back with an answer about availability, let you challenge a first hold and have several other capable photographers available should your first choice fall through. All this for a paltry cut of the $500/day fee. Since these shooters take so many editorial jobs I always try and accommodate when an advertising job suddenly lands on dates I’ve confirmed.

Advertising heavy agents tend to favor shoots with $$$ attached to them. I’ve got no problem with this at all, everyone needs to pay the bills, but some of these agent will stall you for days as they try and get the advertising jobs to land while keeping the editorial option alive. It’s really impossible to challenge a first hold and sometimes it’s impossible to get the agent on the phone to see what the hell is going on. Sometimes I just let it slide because these ad jobs can be a bit finicky but when I get burned I’ve lost 2 or 3 days and still don’t have a photographer.

Fashion flacks primary job is steering their photographers career and that means investigating any potential editorial jobs to see how they will benefit the photographers climb to the top of the fashion food chain. Who can blame them really, the fashion industry feeds heavily on the perception of cool and photographers who want to land the next big campaign or high profile editorial spread need to pay careful attention to their image. Get caught shooting for an uncool magazine or having your brilliant photos hacked to death by an incompetent photography director and you’re off the list.

Jackonary asked a few questions in a post (here):

Hey APE while we are at it and now that I am representation free whats your feeling on agents, are they a help or a hindrance, do you prefer to deal with them or the photographer direct and if you are not so keen on an agency in general does that taint your view of the individual talent. Does it help your cause if you are on an uber roster. Do you feel more safe and secure if the photographer has a safety blanket of support or do you just not care. Oh and do you huck agency promos in the trash too ! I would love to hear about your experiences and I think it may be enlightening. Any advice and insight would be appreciated as I go through my own transition. I don’t think you have really posted heavily on this topic yet.

When picking a photographer for the most part I don’t pay attention to who the agent is or even if they have one. Landing the photographer I’ve picked can sometimes be challenging if the agent doesn’t like the shoot or there’s big ad jobs floating as I indicated above.

I usually always go through the agent especially with photographers I have a long standing relationship with. That way if a photographer is not interested in a job the agent can turn me down and that always seems to work out better for everyone.

I think having a ringer photographer on the agency roster is critical. It gets your agent on everyone’s list and there’s just more of a chance someone will bump into you. There’s also a little bit of unspoken horse trading that goes on where hooking up the other photographers on the roster will give you a crack at the big shot.

I don’t really huck agency promos in the trash because they’re so expensive to create and I really feel bad doing it.

When you’re looking for a new agent I would look closely at the other photographers to get a feel for their taste in photography and then see what kind of jobs their other photographers are getting because that’s a pretty good indicator of the types of clients that have the agent on speed dial. Most of the agents out there have photographers who’s work kinda hangs together in one way or another and I think that has to do with their likes and dislikes and their ability to sell a particular style.

In the end the best agents have a little bit of each trait I described above. They manage the editorial clients well by keeping the process transparent, they keep the advertising clients happy by letting them float around the schedule at will and help photographers make smart decisions to steer their career.

The first time I ran into one of these really great agents I was putting a shoot together and kept trying to cut all these corners to save a little money here and there and the agent refused to allow it in the nicest way by saying “I just don’t think it will turn out the way you want if we do that.” After it was all over and the shoot turned out great I realized she was protecting her photographer because if the shoot failed I’m no longer a client and even worse if the shoot failed and I published the results many future clients will be lost.